International Day of Cooperatives

Cooperatives play an active role in tackling global crises, says ILO Director-General

By adhering to environmental standards and promoting local production, consumer and producer cooperatives can help limit greenhouse gas emissions and sustain supply chains for essential goods and services, says ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, on the International Day of Cooperatives 2020.

Statement | 03 July 2020

This year’s International Day of Cooperatives gives me the opportunity and it’s very welcome to do two things.

Firstly, to underline the strong and historic links which bind the ILO and the global cooperative movement.

100 years ago this year the ILO established its Cooperative Unit. Our first Director, Albert Thomas, was a prominent cooperativist. And to this day the ILO remains the only part of the United Nations system with an explicit mandate on cooperatives.

We take that mandate very seriously. It’s referenced in the ILO Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work that was adopted by the International Labour Conference last year. And it is of the utmost importance in the conditions of crisis into which the COVID-19 pandemic has plunged the world of work today.

And we’re fortunate to have the International Cooperative Alliance as our partners in promoting cooperatives. And I want to greet the Alliance and to congratulate it on its 125th anniversary and it’ long record of achievements, which has done so much to advance the cause of social justice.

And this is the context for me to underline the crucial significance of the theme of today: “Cooperatives for climate action”.

One of the things this pandemic has done is to remind us just how closely the world of work is connected to climate change and therefore of the central role it must play in combating it. It’s precisely because the cooperative model aligns short-term actions with long-term vision that it can give us precious insight into how to confront global crises, be it pandemic or climate change.

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis producer and consumer cooperatives have been crucial in sustaining supply chains of essential goods and services by turning to their communities and re-localizing economies. Financial cooperatives have set up solidarity funds to support effective businesses and vulnerable populations. Industrial, worker and social cooperatives have transformed their products and services to meet urgent local demand for protective equipment, food, supplies and social care.

And this local resource-based approach not only supports communities in times of crisis but also contributes to climate change adaptation and mitigation.

And this is evident when cooperatives offer mutual crop insurance products to sustain local farmers, when agricultural cooperatives support crop diversification as a means of drought resilience, or when they improve watershed management to conserve precious natural resources.

And a new generation of cooperatives is leading the transition to community-owned renewable energy, harnessing wind and solar power as well as bio-gases.

So, cooperatives and other social and solidarity economy models must be an integral part of the solutions that we envision as we confront the enormous challenges of building back better. And if we want to build a human-centered future of work, one that is fairer and greener, one that serves people and planet together, if we are truly committed to realizing the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development then we need to be sure that cooperatives continue to be the crucial actors that they have always been.